Hyperloop One is showing us how to do public affairs and influencer marketing at scale
"Lobbying is the new normal for tech companies," wrote Elizabeth Pollman of Loyola Law School in a recent paper.
She said that the new wave of startups, with ambitious plans to overhaul everything from space to currencies to transportation, are well aware that they face long and uphill regulatory and public affairs battles.
A startup that has obviously internalized this is Hyperloop One.
A key reason why some commentators are skeptical about Hyperloop is because they think it will never be able to get the necessary rights of way to build thousands of kilometers of Hyperloop track from scratch. As Gizmodo put it, "The biggest hurdles for Hyperloop are still land rights and bureaucracy, not tech".
Obviously, Hyperloop One realizes that. It has worked hard (and fast) to generate lots of buzz, and its strategy seems to be to draw regions and governments in a bidding war to build the first hyperloop. See: Dubai, Sweden/Finland, Slovakia and (at some point) Russia.
Going forward, it obviously faces a few challenges:
1. It needs to keep feeding the hype loop
Today, Hyperloop One is expertly communicating every milestone: Every test, every mile of track, every pod is celebrated and manages to generate earned media for the company. Of course, that party won't last. Once the technology has proven its worth and the design of the pods is more or less final, it will have fewer breakthrough announcements. Instead of celebrating a two-mile test track, media will probably only turn up when new hyperloop connections are opened (and even that will become routine).
2. It needs to convince people that it will be built.
The second challenge is more difficult than the first. Hyperloop One's long-term survival depends on maintaining the momentum that it enjoys today and on creating a first successful project.
Even a small-scale project will require a thousand miles of hyperloop tracks to be built, most likely in densely populated areas, since Hyperloop promises transportation from city center to city center.
To cut through all this bureaucracy and red tape, it is going to need a lot of friends. And it found an interesting way to recruit them - a way we haven't really seen before, at least not this explicitly: It offers "influencers" the chance to sign up to lobby for it.